Building Construction, Renovation, Maintenance & Advice

Kitchen Design Part 1 - Layout

The world's first kitchen

"Adam I want something."
"Yes my love."
"I don't know what it is yet but I'm working on it."
"Yes my love."
"I want a place to cook, you know like my own room.
"Yes my love."
"I think..... I think I'll call it a kitchen."
"Yes my love."
"I want a place over here with a fire to cook on and a chimney to take the smoke away."
"Yes my love."
"A place here for storing dead things."
Yes my love."
"A place here for peeling the spuds and carrots."
"And a place here with a flat top so I can bludgeon things to death and disembowel them."
"Yes my love."
"It mustn't be too high though I'm only 4 foot 9 and a half."
"Yes my love."
"Yes my love?"
"I, er, I mean no my love."
"Ok I want it ready for next Saturday. You get on with that and I'll make you a nice snake and pigmy pie with apple sauce for your supper."
"Yes my love."

You see right from the start someone thought about a kitchen as a utilitarian space that should be designed to suit the purpose of cooking.

While the furnishings have changed a little since Adam was a lad, the basic concepts of kitchen design are still the same and have evolved over eons of time (an eon, that's an excruciatingly long period of time you know).

Kitchen layout is very important

For people who spend much time in a kitchen the layout is very important and even small flaws can be a pain in the proverbial and this is why chefs are infamous for being grumpy old sods.

People who work in kitchens tend to know how they should best be designed (funny that). It's all to do with ergonomics. Years ago I was standing in a kitchen with an architect. It was a very spacious kitchen and I immediately thought that whoever would have to work in here would end up wearing joggers and carrying a GPS. "Who designed it?" I asked. "I did" replied the architect. "Do much cooking?" I ventured. "No my wife cooks in our house." "Thought so."

In recent years we have been seeing larger and larger houses being built. The trend is towards minimalist design, higher ceilings and large spacious rooms. Kitchens tend to be following this trend and all too often I see kitchens that are better suited to repairing A380s.

A working kitchen should not be too large

Compact is often good with everything within reach. Most kitchens will only have one person cooking at a time, a few will have two and only commercial kitchens need to be designed to have discreet working areas where teams of people will work.

As many people know kitchens are designed around a "work triangle" with most movement being between the cooker, refrigerator and sink. Work benches are interspersed around these and located so that when that couchsportsman of a husband has finally been hounded into action and is determined to prove once and for all that he should not be allowed anywhere near a kitchen ever again there is somewhere handy for him to throw the flaming pan.

Of course we do need to chop up dead things from time to time (perhaps even the odd recalcitrant husband) so we need some bench space for that.

Bearing all this in mind let us look at some standard kitchen layouts which will determine, or if you are renovating probably be determined by, the shape of the room.

1. Along a Wall Kitchen

wall kitchen planThis design is used when you build a kitchen against a single wall usually with a fridge at one end, the sink in the middle, the cooker towards the other end and bench space in between. The work triangle in this case is in fact a line between the fridge the cooker and the sink and so movement wise it is not a very efficient layout. This design is often used in small flats or bedsits where space is at a premium and cats cannot be swung. If this layout is used in an open plan dining room / kitchen a view of the back of the person cooking is not very sociable although it does allow you to avoid eye contact with a grumpy spouse in the morning. It doesn't look good with the kitchen being "on full display" to the room.

corner kitchen plan

2. Corner Kitchen

This design wraps around a corner of a room (surprise surprise) with the fridge at one end, the sink and cooker on two walls and bench spaces in between. This is better than the previous single wall kitchen in that the work triangle becomes a triangle making it more efficient as a workspace. Corner kitchens suit a layout with a kitchen table and chairs added although inevitably the table will become a secondary work area. This design allows more than one person to work at once. It does have a corner bench which can tend to become dead space with a difficult to access cupboard in the corner.


return kitchen plan

3. Return or U Shaped Kitchen

Here an extra wing or return is added to the corner kitchen. This increases working efficiency with the work triangle becoming compact and it allows for the separation of food preparation, cooking and cleanup functions. The extra wing may be used as a breakfast bar and can be good as a work area when socialising. It also looks much tidier screening the kitchen from the rest of the room. This kitchen design does, however, have two dead corner cupboard spaces.


4. Galley or Parallel Kitchen

galley kitchen plan

So named because it is widely used on ships where the shortage of space means the kitchen is very often also used as a corridor. The kitchen is lined up on two parallel walls. Some people really like this style of kitchen and it is a design often found in the professional kitchens used in movies where the hero chases the baddy as he tries to exit stage left - through the kitchen - pulling crockery and pans off the shelves as he passes. The work triangle can be made to work well and work areas can be separated. There are no dead corners. Common in Britain, a galley kitchen can be a pain if it is a through route to a storeroom or, more commonly, to the back door.

5. Island Kitchen

island kitchen planThis is similar to the corner kitchen except that an "island" bench unit is placed away from the other benches where a kitchen table might otherwise be. Island kitchens have become very popular being easy to work in, with good access, separation of work areas and the work triangle working well. Also good if you have more than one person messing about in the kitchen at the same time, very good if you like having domestics (you can duck behind the island as the plates fly over) and is particularly useful if you present cooking programmes on the television. They can be expensive, require a lot of space and you must remember that there might be problems getting the plumbing and power to the island unit. Don't build the house and then decide you'll add an island unit later, you'll give your local plumber (or yourself) a nervous breakdown as he hacks away at your beautiful parquet flooring.

Whatever the kitchen design you might choose it is important to get the dimensions correct so the distances between benches, the cooker, fridge and sink are short enough to be efficient but large enough to allow space to move especially if more than one person will work in the kitchen at once.

As I said before a kitchen is a place where compact often works well. You'll remember I said that when you are halfway through peeling the onions and, with tears streaming down your face, you realise you left the tap running in the kitchen sink and the fridge door open and, as you reach out your left foot to close it, you notice the frying pan is starting that telltale smoke that says it is about to burst into flames.

As a final note in any kitchen it is very important to buy a fridge with a door that opens the right way. You don't want a right handed door in a left handed kitchen. You will find that some fridges have reversible doors.

If blather about kitchens leaves you cold you can totally ignore all of this and go find a warung or there's always a passing kaki lima. Bakso carts, of course, use the age old postage stamp kitchen design made famous by Luigi Vinnebago who had a less than thriving business building motor homes out of Fiat 500s.

Copyright © Phil Wilson 2013
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17 July 2017 Copyright © Mr Fixit,
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